Interview with Tony Jaa and his role in Hong Kong film “Paradox”
Story : Thita Orn-in, Natthakorn Wiangin
There’s no more doubt that Tony Jaa (Japanom Yeerum) is Thailand’s number one action super star whose name was on Thai, Hong Kong, China or even Hollywood well-known action films.
After becoming renowned in Thailand, Tony Jaa started to gain international recognition from Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior and Tum Yum Gung. His name became reputable and thus attracted international roles such as the Fast and Furious 7 (2015); the 5th most profitable film in global film history making the phenomenal USD 1500 Million. Later in 2017, He starred in the same movie as Vin Diesel in the XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017)
In Hong Kong as well as China, Ja is starting to be seen in screen from the movie SPL II (2015) and recently Paradox (2017) directed by Asia most admired director Wilson Yip, taking a role with Hong Kong super star Loise Koo.
And this is the interview with Tony Jaa:
GM Live: Could you tell us about the arrangements behind the film “Paradox”?
Tony Jaa: The arrangement behind the role in Paradox dates back to the previous film SPL II. I got to know Wilson Yip from Sun Entertainment, who was, at that time, the producer. He was trying to explore the chance to work with me but our schedules didn’t quite fit. But this character is as if it was waiting for me to take. So, I told Wilson I would love to work with him if there’s a chance. At the time of SPL II, I took part as the Police and, so this time he requested my part in Paradox. When I read the script, I thought it was very interesting.
GM Live: You got to work with Summo Hung, a Chinese legend actor, your favorite actor.
Tony Jaa: I had the opportunity to work with him for the first time when I was 15-16 years old as a stuntman. The commercial wanted a stunt man with an elephant. I passed the audition because I showed them the flip and I stuffed myself with some sponge to look thicker. When they saw that I could flip, they took me almost instantly. And although I was small, I look bigger than usual because of the sponge I wore. From what I remember, the commercial piece was a booster drink and there was a fighting scene with an elephant.
From then on, it was my wish and my intention to work with Summo Hung again. I had also taken a photo together with him. Today, my wish has been fulfilled so I told the Producer that you are the one who granted my wish. I thanked our manager and everyone I have worked with. I also went to pay respect to Summo Hung according to Chinese tradition to become his student. He said he had seen my work since Ong Bak. It was very nice of him to invite me for tea. We exchanged conversations, teaching each other languages and I taught him to say “Sawasdee” and how to say “Go to hotel”, “Eat meals” and “”Have a shower” in Thai while he taught me his language.
GM Live: How badly were you injured in your worst injury being a movie stunt?
Tony Jaa: From 10 years of taking a part in action movies, the worst injury was in “Tom Yum Gung”. I was supposed to jump between motorbikes and the bike hit me because a stunt speeded it up to hit my leg. I had a sprained leg for a couple of weeks. That was the worst. The other movie was when I was a stuntman. There was an explosion and fire scene. One explosion was burning my back, and I fell down and hurt my knees.
GM Live: So you have cuts and wounds all over your body?
Tony Jaa: Yes, on my body. If I take my shirt off you would see clearly.
GM Live: Back to the film “Paradox”. How were the movie crews and the lead actor Louis Koo?
Tony Jaa: I would say we worked in collaboration. I could suggest ideas and content in the film when they asked for my idea. They want my ideas on Thai traditions when expressing cares and concerns to a friend. They asked what a friend would do if they knew there’s danger ahead. My suggestion was to give amulets or holy substances to friends in danger to protect them. That is the Thai way of expressing care and wish for protection. They put that in the movie.
Actually, Louis Koo is also wearing an amulet of King Rama 5 to symbolize luck. He said a Thai friend gave it to him and it gives him luck. This is also similar to Hong Kong tradition of giving symbols of protection.
GM Live: We know that “Paradox” was shot in Thailand. Where was it?
Tony Jaa: As for the location of the film, it was shot in Minburi, a rooftop of a building in Ramintra. The inside of the building was at Suthisarn market. And the touristy location was at a temple in Rangsit according to the screenplay.
GM Live: Who are other Thai actors/actresses taking parts in the film?
Tony Jaa: Other Thai actors were Pu Wittaya and Noon Siraphun. I like Pu Wittaya. I have watched every one of his movies and we finally work in a film together.
GM Live : What are “Paradox” major attractions?
Tony Jaa: If you watch this film from the start, you will be drawn into the screenplay which was carefully written. You need to follow every part of the movie as the characters walk you through. For instance, Louis Koo travelled from China to find his daughter full of fatherly hopes which he expressed it in such an excellent way. This character brings integrity into the film, while everyone else brings life as they put their best into it.
GM Live: You have now worked in Thailand, Hollywood and China. What are the differences in terms of work system?
Tony Jaa: The difference would be the level of professionalism in the film industry. Hollywood system has a strong working foundation and very systemized. Film making is a serious business and movies are the life of movie makers. Studios are budding as if they were manufacturing goods to feed export industry. There are innovations in ideas and tough competitions. The investment fund is bigger and therefore fuels bigger projects. The scale of movie business there is very big, yet very systematically managed. There are thousands of job posts in a movie as you can see in a long list of names in the End Credit. You almost fall asleep to wait till the end of the list. This is what it’s called “Movie Industry”.
The Hong Kong and China industry is quite similar to ours but they have been developing for a long time. We can say that Chinese Movie industry is advance. They are constantly producing movies and TV series over time. Productions are planed ahead for the work to flow fast and smoothly. They find casts to fit characters a years before the shoot. The workflow is very systematic in China and Hong Kong as they have strict timeline for movie launch. A delay on casting, screenplay writing will postpone the project. When one project is finished, next project replaces and this makes the production very fast. They also find replacements for the next generation as human resource is very important. Summo Hung is also training younger generations.
GM Live: Back to Thailand, why there hasn’t been the second Tony Jaa?
Tony Jaa: I don’t really know. Actually, I think there are many people with gifted talent, but maybe there are no shows for them. Sometimes it’s not only one person’s effort. There has to be supports from trainers and production team. If you ask me if I would do a production in Thailand, I would say I like Thai movie but the production must be internationally linked in some way. We have to look into international market for instance China. China market is very big. We have to make the window of opportunity open and have a broader vision.
GM Live: What is your life’s peak?
Tony Jaa: I would say that I have come far beyond my dream. I have dreamt of becoming an action movie star. I started chasing the dream by becoming a stuntman, a crew assistant and finally I got a part in a film. I have walked the red carpet and my movie poster is everywhere oversea. That was my glorious climax. I am proud to be a Thai person who can be there at that point, flagging Thailand in the Hollywood terrain.